LINGUIST List 26.5481

Wed Dec 09 2015

Review: Applied Ling; General Ling: Abdul-Raof (2015)

Editor for this issue: Sara Couture <>

Date: 14-Aug-2015
From: Lisa Sprowls <>
Subject: Introduction to Linguistics
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Hussein Abdul-Raof
TITLE: Introduction to Linguistics
SUBTITLE: For Students of English as a Foreign Language
SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Textbooks in Linguistics 14
YEAR: 2015

REVIEWER: Lisa Sprowls, Tulane University

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


This textbook is intended to provide an introduction to linguistics, particularly for English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students studying at international universities. The text assumes no prior knowledge of linguistics and aims to be an adequate tool for native speakers of English, as well. The text also adopts a pedagogical approach by providing study questions and brief teaching materials for each chapter.

Chapter one provides an overview of the study of language. Language is defined as a specifically human capacity which can be oral, written, or gestural; it is composed of a set of arbitrary symbols with infinite expressive capacity. The majority of the chapter provides a list of 50 universal features of language, characteristics which the author argues to be applicable to ‘each language’. The universal features center on language being a rule-governed system, productive, and a medium of communication. Finally, the chapter touches upon paralinguistic and prosodic levels of language, a topic revisited in more detail in later chapters.

Chapter Two focuses on the study of linguistics and major sub-disciplines within the field. Linguistics is defined as the descriptive, objective, empirical study of language, focusing on linguistic structures and processes. Here, the author introduces later themes of the book, explaining that linguistic study can be of syntax, semantics, morphology, phonetics, and/or phonology. Discussion then turns to major sub-disciplines of study: sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, historical linguistics, applied linguistics, and computational linguistics. Sociolinguistics is defined as the study of the relationship between language and society, attributed to Labov. Topics of study are listed, with the focus being on linguistic variation tied to social class and gender. Next is psycholinguistics, defined as the study of how the brain processes language production and comprehension. This is accompanied by a list of related topics, such as neurological factors influencing language development, acquisition, and theories of language learning. Historical linguistics is introduced as the study of language evolution and change over time, accompanied by a brief discussion of mechanisms of language change and the Indo-European language family. Applied linguistics is next discussed, defined as ‘language as a practice’. Related topics such as language-teacher development, curriculum design, and critical assessment of pedagogy and students’ language competence are given. Finally, the chapter provides a brief overview of computational linguistics, the analysis of digital corpora of written and/or spoken language.

Chapter Three discusses syntax, defined as the analysis of sentence structure. This is followed by a description of the various parts of speech in English and related phrase structure rules, focusing on the possible components of NPs and VPs. Syntactic analysis is then described through both immediate constituent (IC) analysis and transformational generative grammar (TGG). IC analysis is briefly introduced as the study of constituents, groups of words which function together as a unit. This is accompanied by a linear sentence diagram showing how constituency can be at the word, phrase, clause, and sentence level. The chapter then turns to TGG, introducing its main goals as to generate all the sentences of a language, to not generate ill-formed sentences, and to yield a grammar that expresses all of the linguistic generalizations of a language. TGG is shown largely through the transformational relationship between deep and surface structures of sentences. Drawn from Chomsky (1957), the following transformational rules are introduced: ‘yes/no’ inversion, ‘do’-support, wh-movement, passive, ‘there’ insertion, affix hopping, dative movement, negation, CP embedding, and coordination. Each rule is defined and accompanied by multiple example sentences in English. Non-binary tree diagrams showing both the deep (pre-movement) and surface (post-movement) structures accompany each transformational rule. Finally, the chapter discusses the difference between structural and semantic ambiguity, explaining how they are often responsible for sentences having multiple readings. Syntactic ambiguity, particularly the various spots a PP can be generated, is clearly illustrated through tree-diagrams.

Chapter Four introduces morphology, defined broadly as the study of word structure. The main discussion of the chapter focuses on the morpheme, introduced as the smallest unit of meaning in a word. Free morphemes are described as root words which can stand on their own, divided into lexical and functional free morphemes. The former are described as content words like nouns and verbs, and the latter as function words such as prepositions and conjunctions. The chapter then turns to bound morphemes, derivational or inflectional affixes which cannot stand on their own as a root word. Derivational morphology is described as the study of word formation. English derivational prefixes (like un-) and suffixes (like –ly) are listed and examples show how their use can potentially change the grammatical category of a word. The chapter next introduces English inflectional morphology, showing the uses of suffixes such as (-s, -ing, -ed, -er, -en, and –est). Allomorphs, the different equivalent forms of a morpheme, are illustrated through the forms the English plural can take: [-s, -z, -iz]. Finally, the chapter briefly describes major word formation processes (with example words), such as derivation, backformation, blending, and compounding.

Chapter Five focuses on semantics, introducing it as the field of study of meaning in language on the word, phrase, sentence, and text levels. The discussion aims to focus on language in isolation, as language in contextual use – pragmatics – is discussed in Chapter Eight. The chapter mainly describes semantics through componential analysis, the study of the distinguishing semantic features of a word. The major described features are [+/- Human, Male, Adult, Animate, Concrete, Countable]. These features are used to judge semantic correctness and co-occurrence restrictions. For example, ‘the tree trimmed the woman’ is judged as semantically ill-formed because the verb ‘trim’ requires a [+Human] actor. Similarly, ‘the tree married the cat’ is ill-formed because ‘tree’ cannot co-occur with ‘marry’. Furthermore, the chapter argues that these semantic features tell us the deep structure of grammatical classes; this is illustrated through examples like ‘ill’, which the author describes as an adjective that is underlying used to describe [+/- Human, +Animate]. Next, the difference between denotative, connotative, and contextual meaning is discussed and illustrated with English examples. Finally, the chapter introduces meaning relations such as synonymy, hyponymy, homophony, homonymy, polysemy, metonymy, entailment, and paraphrase.

The longest section in the text is Chapter Six, an overview of translation studies. The author introduces the chapter as an example of applied semantics and “a valuable source for translation projects which [EFL] students are required to do” (150). Translation is defined as replacing text in one language with functionally equivalent text in another language. This process requires analysis of semantic and syntactic features of the source text and language (ST, SL) and how best to convey it using the linguistic norms of the target language (TL) in the resultant target text (TT). The main focus of the chapter is cultural problems in translation, illustrated through issues in translating between English and Arabic. The author suggests that cultural transposition is the best solution to this problem, that themes of the ST and SL should be adapted to equivalents in the SL culture. For example, a ST describing Eid may be inaccessible to an English target audience, as it is a holiday exclusive to Arabic cultures. The cultural equivalent suggested is to translate this to Christmas. Similarly, the chapter discusses how to translate proverbs and metaphors, suggesting they are domesticated to images and meanings known to the TL audience. This is illustrated through religious/taboo expressions, like how to adapt English use of pig or dog in metaphors to Arabic, which largely prohibits images of such animals. The chapter ends with a summative practice section, providing an analysis of five short English texts and how to translate them into Arabic.

Chapter Seven describes the vowels, diphthongs, and consonants of British English and introduces IPA notation. Consonants are described through place and manner of articulation, phonation/voicing, and aspiration. This is accompanied by an illustrated description of the vocal tract and vocal organs involved in production. Vowels are next described and categorized according to length, height/backness of the tongue, and lip rounding. This includes a brief introduction to the difference between tense and lax vowels, with the former being equated to long vowels. Diphthongs, complex vowels involving movement from one vowel sound to another, are listed and example words are given. The chapter then differentiates between phonemes and allophones. Minimal pairs (like ‘pin’ and ‘bin’) are used to show that phonemes are the smallest contrastive units which can impact meaning, while allophones are described via aspirated stops. Finally, the chapter lists five suprasegmental features – pitch, stress, intonation, tempo, and tone – and provides definitions of the first four.

The last chapter is on pragmatics, introduced as the study of language in context and intended (rather than literal) meaning. Speech acts, defined as the goals a speaker wants to achieve in talking to people, is illustrated through examples like greeting, promising, informing, and prohibiting. Grice’s Maxims are briefly introduced as characteristics of effective, cooperative communication; these include quality (truth telling), quantity, manner, and relevance of communicated information between interlocutors. Finally, the chapter ends with a discussion of conversational implicatures, the additional meanings of spoken language in certain contexts.


This textbook largely accomplishes its goal to provide an introduction to linguistics for EFL students. For the range of material covered, the book is relatively concise (228 pages) and the prose is accessible. Major linguistic terms are clearly defined and supplemented with English examples where applicable, providing students with multiple avenues in which to learn these new terms. While the theoretical linguistics covered in the textbook is perhaps not given in as much detail as in other introductory books such as O’Grady et al (2009) or Mihalichek & Wilson (2011), it is better suited for EFL students. In addition to the simpler prose, the focus on English examples and English translation practices found in this textbook specifically tailor it to the needs of students pursuing international degrees in English studies.

Each chapter ends with a ‘study questions’ and ‘references and further readings’ section. The study questions are prefaced with a brief ‘tutorial’, pedagogic instructions for the teacher to aid in completing the activity with students. The study questions are largely recall/comprehension questions [eg. “Provide a brief definition of linguistics?” (56) or “What are the major differences between a free morpheme and a bound morpheme”? (124)], meant to be answered orally rather than in written form. This is a format beneficial for EFL students: reading the chapter benefits their reading proficiency while answering the study questions practices their oral proficiency--both skills are vital in an academic setting. The references and further reading list provided at the end of each chapter is likewise beneficial. While the chapters themselves provide a general overview of each selected topic, the selected references provide students with sources which they can peruse on their own to learn more about the topics introduced in the book. However, it can be overwhelming to have all the references for a chapter listed at the end and not cited within the chapter where they are relevant. More in-chapter citation would make it easier for students to find further information on particular topics that they find interesting or challenging.

However, there are issues in how some topics are presented. First, though the text presents itself to be accessible to all EFL students, most examples and practice are limited to the Arabic language – the translation chapter especially, as it is solely presents examples of translation issues and strategies between Arabic and English. For EFL students who do not speak Arabic, this makes such analysis and skills practice inaccessible. Furthermore, while the textbook stresses that linguistics is a descriptive field, the manner in which some topics are presented is arguably prescriptive. For example, the textbook begins by claiming that language is ‘specifically human’ and that “humans possess a magnificent gift called language” (6). The idea that language could be a larger characteristic of other animal communication systems is not mentioned or provided in the chapter-ending references, despite the fact that this debate is central to the study of language evolution (Balter 2010). Similarly, while the discussion on sociolinguistics devotes a major section to gender-based language variation, students are told at the onset that “women usually discuss their personal feelings more than men. Men prefer to talk about business matters, sport, and news” (36). This provides an incomplete opinion of gender variation that, for example, does not mention the fact that women are actually innovators who largely initiate linguistic change (Eckert 1989, Milroy & Milroy 1978). While the author successfully presented a general view of theoretical linguistics as a whole, the book would have benefited from providing students with more neutral, descriptive analysis and citations for debated issues such as those mentioned above.

There are also certain topics one would expect to find in an introductory textbook which are glossed over or omitted from this book. The chapter on syntax, for example, omits key components of both the constituency and generative analyses it focuses on. While ‘constituent’ is defined, students are not introduced to constituency tests which would allow them to put the given definition into practice. In the discussion of generative grammar, the covered transformations are shown only through non-binary tree diagrams with no mention of further development into X-bar theory. This gives students an outdated view of syntax, and these omissions are odd given the focus afforded to constituency and X-bar theory in other contemporary introductory syntax textbooks (see Carnie 2012, Aarts 2013). Relatedly, though Chapter Seven is entitled ‘Phonetics and Phonology’, the presented content is almost entirely limited to articulatory phonetics. Phonology is not defined or discussed in the chapter, apart from a brief description of allophones. For students relying on this textbook as their introduction to linguistics, such theoretical gaps are detrimental to their understanding of the field.

Overall, this textbook provides an adequate overview to linguistics as a whole, using language accessible to its targeted EFL audience. While certain aspects could be refined, the text achieves its goal of introducing international students to linguistic analysis.


Aarts, B. (2013). English syntax and argumentation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Balter, M. (2010). Evolution of language: Animal communication helps reveal roots of language. Science, 328(5981), 969-971.

Carnie, A. (2012). Syntax: A generative introduction. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.

Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic structures. Berlin: Mouton & Co.

Eckert, P. (1989). Jocks and burnouts: Social identity in the high school. New York: Teachers College Press.

Mihalichek, V. & Wilson, C. (2011). Language files: Materials for an introduction to Linguistics. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Milroy, J. & Milroy, L. (1978). Belfast: Change and variation in an urban vernacular. In Peter Trudgill (Ed.), Sociolinguistic patterns in British English, pp. 19-36. London: E. Arnold.

O’Grady, W., Archibald, J., Aronoff, M., & Rees-Miller, J. (2009). Contemporary linguistics. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s Press.


Lisa Sprowls is a linguistics PhD student at Tulane University. She holds an MA in linguistics from the University of Montana, where she taught English as an Academic Second Language and completed a thesis on second-dialect acquisition. Her current research focuses include OT analyses of dialectal variation, Montana and Pittsburgh dialects of English, and sociophonetics.

Page Updated: 09-Dec-2015